How will you participate in Black History Month?

While most months of the year our country is consumed in white history and culture, ignoring the contributions and culture of African Americans, February (yes the shortest month) is set aside for the purpose of learning and celebrating African American history and culture. For many this month is only Black History month in name, while in reality everyone just goes on as usual. However this month I invite you to actually be intentional, listening and learning from the rich heritage and history of the black community!

How will you participate in Black History Month?

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

15 thoughts on “How will you participate in Black History Month?

  1. I’m grateful to God for who He in His infinite grace has made me to be: where I was born, when I was born, my lineage, all that. God allowed to be be a part of the world at this particular time in its history.

    I am a black man in American and I comfortable in my cafe-au-lait skin. I celebrate the past present and future of my people and their accomplishments. Here’s where I struggle: I’m uncomfortable with anything (be it race, economic status, education achievement, ad infinitum) that causes division between us as born again children of God.

    I especially grapple with this when churches have Black History type emphases during our corporate worship times. As one who is committed to racial reconciliation, I know you can help a brother out with some insight.

  2. Well I am a firm believer in two important biblical priniciples. Unity and Diversity. I think that over and over again we see those two themes arise out of the text. I really love Revelation 7:9, where we see in heaven a gathering “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne”.
    I think we can recognize and celebrate our heritage, history, and culture as well as other peoples in tasteful and meaningul ways. If done right, people will actually learn to understand and appreciate one another better.
    Now their must be a distinction between diversity and divisiveness. When things create “a wall of hostility” between folks” then their is a problem. Our identity in Christ, are supposed to break down those divisive barriers, because that is where we find our identity.
    However, if another Christian is unwilling to accept me for who I am because of my heritage, I would argue that they are the ones who need to be challenged.
    I know for me and my experience in Harrisburg. That there was a direct connection between the diversity among the body of Christ and the believers celebrating and learning about one anothers cultures and heritage. Through some intentionality, lots of stereotypes and misunderstandings were actually eliminated, that otherwise would have remained if there wasn’t that open authentic sharing of culture and personal lives. I think the avoidence of tackling race and culture within the church in America, is at least a part of the reason why 11 O’clock Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated hour of the week. Maybe i’ll do some more posts continueing this dialogue…

  3. I agree that we can have tasteful and meaningful celebrations of our heritage, history and culture. You didn’t comment on my question about such during our corporate worship times.

    Again, I was at a church on a Sunday morning where there was a time dedicated to a Black history presentation. I’m Black and it was awkward for me.

    Question: What was the gathering “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” doing? Their focus was “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and unto the lamb.”

    I think the focus on race during Sunday worship gatherings (especially when all races aren’t included at one time or another) might only add to the perpetuation of our segregated Sunday mornings. I know I don’t want to attend a church where there’s a white history moment during the time I came to worship. Just my opinion, I could be wrong. Hit me back.

  4. Oh… sorry missed the heart of what you were asking. To be very honest, I think different local churches play very different roles. So I will run on a short tangent.

    A good example, as you well know, the black church historically has been a place that has fought for equality and justice, from the conditions of slavery up till the present. They also helped to teach its members that often had inferiority complexes that they were somebody, because they were children of God, and made in his image. I believe that the Gospel was fleshed out in the African American experience.

    Their now exist many first and second generation Korean churches. First generation churches, help the highly Korean speaking and cultured congregants to connect in a society that does not have a place for them, nor where their language is spoken or understood. Their service takes on a Korean cultured focus. Second generation churches, often are filled with the american born Koreans, who speak English. These services are more likely to be diverse with other ethnic groups, and are either bilingual or often primarily in English.

    I say all that, because I think being contextual is a part of it. If I rolled up into an all white church, and they were celebrating White History Month (Which is every month but now) I would definitely have a problem with it. I could not see how that was building or equipping the church in any way. However, at Harrisburg, their was often celebrations and recognitions of different ethnic groups. The key was that it wasn’t just for blacks, but for any underrepresented group that was in the congregation. And it was really lots of whites who understood and pushed for it to be like that. They enjoyed learning and growing, and openly admitted that their culture and heritage tended to dominate the church culture already, and so this approach would hopefully balance things out, in and allow everyone to be shaped by the stories and experiences of different people groups.
    I think that God always has to be the guest of the day in church. So the history and culture celebrations that take place in church should never overshadow our reason for being there. However, as a part of building each other up as we grow into one body, I believe that churches can do so if their goals are biblical, aka teaching about God’s diversity, teaching that we are made in His image and are fearfully and wonderfully made, teaching against racism and injustice, etc.
    I imagine that my approach is risky, because I a imagine that in the black church sometimes their are celebrations that turn into boasting. That would be uncomfortable to sit through during a church service. However if the people of God in humility, can point to God’s beautiful diversity, or see how he has moved among various people groups outside of just Europe, I think it is well worth the risk. Helpful? I think I answered your question this time, lol.

  5. Steve… you are too funny, just that article. Sadly, I wonder whether or not everyone would pick up on the satire? Anyway thanks for the post!

  6. Drew … The point of the satire was not lost on me, and I appreciate your views. There is a phrase you used a couple of times which illustrates some of my frustrations and struggles. You mention “the black church.”

    I don’t want to seem naive or unrealistic. I realize there are local gatherings which comprise a majority (if not an exclusivity) of one race or another.

    I minister once a quarter at an assembly whose membership is one hundred percent Caucasian, with the occasional visitor of color. But I would never, ever say that I’m going to speak to the white church.

    Your point about the Korean assemblies is also well taken. For me it’s hard to pass that off while at the same time bemoaning the fact that 11am on Sundays is the most segregated hour of the week.

    I’m not a theologian. I don’t have an M. Div or a BA for that matter. I’m just a guy God saved from the streets of South Philly who struggles with the racial divide within the body of Christ. Satire aside, it ain’t funny to me.

  7. I guess my language in saying “the black church” or “the white church” is not speaking theologically in reference to “The Church” as the body of Christ, but rather to its more human side as an institution. Unfortunately, many “churches” fall into the trap of being more of a institution and social club than the counter cultural Kingdom of God. For those reasons, I when talking about the churches racial problem use that language. However, I definitely believe that there is only One true Church, of which we are all One Family. I guess its mainly a difference of talking theologically verses sociologically.

    But as far as your last statement, you are definitely a theologian, whether or not you went to school for it or not. And I think it is up to folks like us to continue looking to scriptures for answers for our societies tough problems. You know very well that I too struggle deeply with the racial divide, hopefully we can keep the discussion going here, but especially a Montco where we are already starting to become more and more diverse.

  8. Drew,
    How grateful I am for your presence at MBF and the impact you have already had on our ministry there. You bring a perspective and sensitivity that was missing before you came. I love the dialogue.

  9. Drew,

    First of all, big ups to the blog name. The word describes you and your ministry.

    Wordsmith, you are a theologian. The way you are freestyle into the Living word with your blog comments is off the hook.

    This issue of Black History Month is always a hot topic. What I love about the discussion it reveals things that would other wise not be discussed. For example, it bring to the attention that history has a point of view. For example, written history takes on the view of its writer and oral history takes on the view of its speaker. Whether right or not, we all look at history differently. So who’s history do we flow with?

    When we talk or teach or learn about American Black History I believe it brings Glory to God. The more I learn about black History the deeper I become in my faith. Countless examples of women and men, who put God first in their lives despite their circumstances. Wouldn’t God be pleased for a Christians to bring praises to God through celebrating our unique history?

    On the side note, how do get a name for a blog?

    tim

  10. Try going to http://www.blogger.com, you might have to create a blog account and just not really follow through making it if you want to do that. I have seen some people with profiles and no blog. Thanks for the input fam!

  11. Tim, Thanks for the kind words.

    As we all know, one of the challenges with the written word (as a means of dialogue) is that we don’t have the advantage of scoping facial expressions or hearing the subtle nuances in the voice. I hope I don’t come across as a brother who doesn’t get it. I get it.

    Paul was a man who by his own confession had as much reason as anyone to glory in his creds:

    “…circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law a Pharisee…”

    You know the rest: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ … count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

    When I was a young buck I spent my summers in South Carolina at my Grandma’s house. When my cousins and I went to the movies in town we had to go in the back entrance and sit in the balcony. This isn’t something I read, this is something I lived, and I’m not some really old guy. I get it.

    There was a time when my identity was wrapped around my being Black. It was what shaded everything for me: my joy, my anger and my ministry. Now, there is nothing more precious to me than being a part of the Body of Christ. That’s my springboard, the place where everything jumps off for me. But believe me, I get it.

    Big ups to Drew for this forum where we can provoke one another to good works.

  12. daughter comes home from school and is completely upset that black history month at her school has been reduced to one period of class. she goes to the library and cant find any books about slavery or black history. she complains to her teacher who tells her she can do a biography or book report for an extra language arts credit that has to be done on her own time. what a shame on our public school system and our society. lest we forget…and it seems in some places we have.

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